China should explain why it appears to have pinned Australia with a series of import restrictions that have disrupted trade flows and undermined confidence in the economic relationship, the Australian trade minister said.
With Australia and its biggest trading partner at a standstill over how to end the tensions, Simon Birmingham also used a television interview on Sunday to accuse the Chinese embassy in Canberra of taking a number of futile actions this year.
A Chinese embassy official told Guardian Australia on Friday that “the whole problem is caused by the Australian side” and that Canberra should stop treating China as a strategic threat if it wants to resume ministerial-level talks that have been frozen since. early this year.
Those comments came after the embassy provided Nine news with a list of 14 areas dispute with Australia earlier in the week, including the Morrison government’s public comment on human rights or land issues in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang, blocking of numerous Chinese foreign investment proposals, and “antagonistic” media reports from the Australian free press.
Birmingham told Sky News on Sunday that it did not believe “that several of the actions of the Chinese embassy in Australia have been particularly helpful this year.”
He cited comments made by Chinese Ambassador Cheng Jingye in April, in which the top envoy warned that Australia’s direct push for an international investigation into the origins and early handling of Covid-19 could sour bilateral ties and affect consumer confidence.
Cheng told Australian Financial Review that “if the mood goes from bad to worse”, Chinese tourists may reconsider traveling to Australia, parents may reconsider sending their children to Australia to study, and consumers may reconsider drinking Australian wine or eating Australian beef.
Birmingham said the ambassador’s comments “were essentially threats of coercion,” while the embassy’s subsequent list of “claimed claims” contained the “kinds of things that … any country does correctly in terms of setting rules on foreign investment. to ensure that it is in the national interest, standards to protect critical infrastructure and security provisions in nations.
“That’s something China does as much as Australia does,” Birmingham said.
When asked why some Asian nations, including those with territorial disputes with China, were able to maintain viable relations and yet Australia’s relationship had deteriorated so badly, Birmingham said it was something Beijing needed to explain.
“In many ways you are asking a question that is a question for the Chinese authorities as to why they may have apparently chosen to target Australia in some way for comment and / or action in different ways,” he said.
Birmingham said there are a number of areas where China and Australia could continue to cooperate successfully in their mutual interest, particularly at a time when global economic recovery is so crucial.
He said the Australian government was “so deeply concerned that the number of regulatory interventions that China has taken this year that appear to have disrupted the flow of trade undermine that economic cooperation.”
Beijing has taken a number of actions targeting billions of dollars worth of Australian exports, although it has generally tried to defend them for technical reasons.
These actions have included tariffs on barley, suspension of beef from several Australian slaughterhouses, informal advice discouraging buying Australian cotton, putting Australian coal exports in limbo, and launching trade investigations into Australian wine.
More recently, Australian live lobster shipments have been spoiled after suffering delays on the track from China for additional health-related testing, and some timber imports have been suspended due to pest concerns.
China’s Foreign Ministry has argued that Australia has been a prolific user of “anti-dumping” trade measures against Chinese products for several years, and has defended its own actions as comparatively limited in scope.
Last week, the Chinese embassy official told Guardian Australia that the Morrison government should reflect on what it could do “to stop the decline in the bilateral relationship” and create a better mood for talks.
“Of course you can say that you need two people to tango, but here, as you can see, all the problem is caused by the Australian side,” said the official, who asked not to be identified.
Birmingham, who has been turned down for requesting a phone call with the Chinese trade minister, maintained its long-standing position that “the ball is in China’s court” for a high-level dialogue.
He said that the fact that regional and global summits are now being held via video link, like APEC and G20 over the weekend, added an additional layer of difficulty in resolving tensions, because there was no opportunity for informal talks on the margins. .
Scott Morrison remains in isolation at the Lodge in Canberra and attended the virtual G20 leaders’ summit hosted by Saudi Arabia late on Saturday Australian time, and was supposed to join the talks remotely later on Sunday.
Morrison is understood to have told his fellow leaders that the G20 had an important role in providing hope amid efforts to lift the world out of the pandemic and global recession.
Several leaders called for World Trade Organization reforms as part of the global economic recovery, while access to vaccines has been a high priority in the G20 talks.
Labor leader Brendan O’Connor told ABC’s Insiders that he hoped Morrison was working to resolve tensions with China behind the scenes, because primary producers were being negatively affected.
While Australia should not resist defending its values or defending human rights, O’Connor said the government needed to show “diplomatic prowess”, and the situation was not helped by “offensive and gratuitous comments” made by some supporters of the Coalition.
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